Editorial: CT can set an example for police accountability

Connecticut State Police badge.

Connecticut State Police badge.

Connecticut State Police

Connecticut’s Police Accountability Law has been — and likely will remain — polarizing. It thus demands vigilant scrutiny.

There’s a thick blue line between positions on the appropriateness and effectiveness of the law, which was crafted in response to George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May 2020. Connecticut’s law, which took effect 14 months ago, was a big swing to address a lot of issues regarding police behavior. Among other things, it tightens restrictions on searches, reduces immunity from lawsuits and limits use of deadly force.

Even many of the law’s champions have acknowledged it will likely need tweaking in future legislative sessions. In the meantime, it is important to bookmark the effectiveness of one element of the law that made headlines in recent days.

Gary Gamarra resigned as a New Haven police officer last December after being accused of coercing sex from two women. Before the accountability law took effect, he might have been able to secure a position with another police department in the state.

Twelve months later, though, the Police Officer Standards and Training Council has revoked his certification, eliminating the possibility of Gamarra working again in law enforcement in Connecticut.

It’s a landmark moment, because Gamarra is the first police officer in the state to be stripped of his certification under the general misconduct provision of the law. It’s not just Connecticut that should pay attention, but other states as well.

Yes, Gamarra won’t wear a badge again in Connecticut, but that doesn’t mean he can’t seek similar employment in other states. Around the nation, too many officers who would fail background checks in other industries routinely find new jobs by moving to other towns, or other states. One study detailed how police departments in Florida had a lineup of hundreds of officers who had been fired from previous jobs.

This single case illustrated how that trend can be reversed. An officer accused of inappropriate behavior cannot beat the system by proactively resigning and seeking work elsewhere. Victims deserve better.

Police unions have challenged the law and supported political candidates of the same mindset. In the public eye, all police carry the weight of a disgraced officer. The solution isn’t to make it harder to clean up the ranks.

A more appropriate remedy would be a united stand supporting the creation of a federal database of police misconduct. Connecticut made bold moves in becoming a laboratory in this undertaking, but there needs to be more support across the nation.

Many police work hard to earn the faith of the people they serve, but that trust is compromised when they resist change that protects the public (this is just one example. Another is the blowback in some departments to getting vaccinated against COVID-19).

But officers should not be the primary concern in executing and refining the Police Accountability Law. “Police” may be in the name, but this is really about shielding the public.